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Lessons Learned from the Pandemic: Adoption and Digital Readiness

Washington, D.C. (March 31, 2023) — On March 24, the Communications Equity and Diversity Council (CEDC) hosted the roundtable, “Lessons Learned from the Pandemic on Broadband Access, Affordability, and Deployment.” A range of experts and a diverse set of stakeholders were brought together to discuss their organizations’ efforts to promote digital equity, broadband adoption, and digital skills training during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

After the opening remarks from Heather Gate, Executive Vice President of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation and CEDC Chair, the first panel got underway. The panelists discussed the promotion of deployment on affordable and accessible broadband services during the pandemic.

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A second, equally dynamic panel followed, titled “Adoption and Digital Readiness.” The conversation centered on identifying programs initiated during the pandemic to address adoption and digital readiness, and the opportunities that exist to scale successful programs, while ensuring they are sufficiently funded.

The panelist included: Panel Moderator Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD; Stephan Adams, President and CEO of Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (viNGN); Norma Fernandez, CEO of EveryoneOn; Anisa Green, Director of Federal Regulatory and Chief of Staff for the Executive Vice President, Federal Regulatory Relations and Chief Regulatory Officer, Corporate and Legislative Affairs for AT&T Services Inc.; Thomas Kamber, Founder and Executive Director for Older Adults Technology Services (OATS); Ji Soo Song, Digital Equity Advisor for U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Technology; Hal Woods, Chief of Policy for Kids First Chicago; and Dominique Harrison, Ph.D., Chair of Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group.

Below are some of the main questions and responses from the discussion.

Question 1: What programs, if any, did your organization implement during the pandemic regarding broadband adoption and digital readiness?

  • Stephan Adams: “We didn’t even have decent access like some of my peers on this panel. In the Virgin Islands, it was the pits. We didn't have the resources. But now, we're looking at how to harness our federal partners to make sure we're more equipped.”

  • Question 2: What worked well in reaching the diversity of the communities you serve? What didn’t go well?

    • Hal Woods:“Changing marketing from ‘free internet’ to ‘no cost to you’ helped reach more people who qualified for the ACP program because people don't trust the ‘free.’ We also partnered for training and let organizations develop programs to address their own needs.”

    • Thomas Kamber: “We’re reaching more people in different demographics by translating more of our courses and have made it easier to register for programs. We also partner with AARP to target communities where the gaps are largest, including rural areas.”

    • Also from Kamber: “The historical trend in urban communities is the access is there, but seniors can't afford it or there hasn't been the digital skills training they need. In rural areas, a lot of younger people are also offline because it's just not there.”

    • Question 3: What strategies worked well that you would share with other leaders?

      • Stephan Adams:“Our governor came over the radio and rallied the community around being self-sufficient. This led to more people sharing broadband resources that they had with others.”

      • Hal Woods:“We implemented digital learning. To find out what families wanted to learn, we worked with our stakeholders to create a series of surveys. Now, we do one every year, which has been very helpful.”

      • Ji Soo Song:“We really leveraged our trusted partners. Coming from the Department of Education, we know that our schools are very trusted resources. We used their information to design a page of resources about the ACP.”

      • Other comments:

        • Hal Woods: “The federal funding timelines for digital inclusion are critical.  Organizations that need those funds to sustain these efforts — we have community organizations who have added digital equity — is some of the core work they're doing.”

        • Thomas Kamber: “Every single state, every community, and the federal government need to be asking, how do we make sure these programs are designed so they are sustained into the future? That goes to the private sector as well.” 

        • To watch the full panel, click the video below: